The eleventh session of the general conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, held its meeting in Paris from November 14 to December 15, 1960. At the session, it was decided that every person has the right to education and that discrimination in education is a violation of the human rights.
Under the terms of its Constitution, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization seeks to institute collaboration among the nations with a view to furthering universal respect for human rights and equality of educational opportunity. For these reasons, the Convention against Discrimination in Education was adopted on December 14, 1960.
The convention, effective since 1962, , is aimed at combating segregation and discrimination in the field of education. The convention addresses many aspects of discrimination in education and it covers the issues of separate schools based on language, gender and religion, and of private schools. It is also a cornerstone of UNESCO’s ‘Education for All’ movement.
For the purpose of the convention, the term ‘discrimination’ includes any distinction, exclusion, limitation or preference which, being based on race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic condition or birth, has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing equality of treatment in education and in particular:
- of depriving any person or group of persons of access to education of any type or at any level;
- of limiting any person or group of persons to education of an inferior standard;
- of establishing or maintaining separate educational systems or institutions for persons or groups of persons; or
- of inflicting on any person or group of persons conditions which are incompatible with the dignity of man.
‘When permitted in a State, the following situations shall not be deemed to constitute discrimination, within the meaning of article 1 of this Convention:
- the establishment or maintenance of separate educational systems or institutions for pupils of the two sexes, if these systems or institutions offer equivalent access to education, provide a teaching staff with qualifications of the same standard as well as school premises and equipment of the same quality, and afford the opportunity to take the same or equivalent courses of study;
- the establishment or maintenance, for religious or linguistic reasons, of separate educational systems or institutions offering an education which is in keeping with the wishes of the pupil’s parents or legal guardians, if participation in such systems or attendance at such institutions is optional and if the education provided conforms to such standards as may be laid down or approved by the competent authorities, in particular for education of the same level;
- the establishment or maintenance of private educational institutions, if the object of the institutions is not to secure the exclusion of any group but to provide educational facilities in addition to those provided by the public authorities, if the institutions are conducted in accordance with that object, and if the education provided conforms with such standards as may be laid down or approved by the competent authorities, in particular for education of the same level.’
Education is also very broadly defined under the convention. For the purposes of the convention, the term ‘education’ refers to all types and levels of education, and includes access to education, the standard and quality of education, and the conditions under which it is given.’
Under Article 3 of the convention, states are given some responsibilities to ensure that discrimination is prevented. Therefore, ‘in order to eliminate and prevent discrimination within the meaning of this Convention, the States Parties thereto undertake:
- to abrogate any statutory provisions and any administrative instructions and to discontinue any administrative practices which involve discrimination in education;
- to ensure, by legislation where necessary, that there is no discrimination in the admission of pupils to educational institutions;
- not to allow any differences of treatment by the public authorities between nationals, except on the basis of merit or need, in the matter of school fees and the grant of scholarships or other forms of assistance to pupils and necessary permits and facilities for the pursuit of studies in foreign countries;
- not to allow, in any form of assistance granted by the public authorities to educational institutions, any restrictions or preference based solely on the ground that pupils belong to a particular group;
- to give foreign nationals resident within their territory the same access to education as that given to their own nationals.’
Apart from these, the states should also formulate, develop and apply a national policy which will tend to promote equality of opportunity and of treatment in the matter of education and in particular:
- to make primary education free and compulsory; make secondary education in its different forms generally available and accessible to all; make higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity; assure compliance by all with the obligation to attend school prescribed by law;
- to ensure that the standards of education are equivalent in all public education institutions of the same level, and that the conditions relating to the quality of education provided are also equivalent;
- to encourage and intensify by appropriate methods the education of persons who have not received any primary education or who have not completed the entire primary education course and the continuation of their education on the basis of individual capacity;
- to provide training for the teaching profession without discrimination.’
The convention also directs the states to make the following affirmation-
- education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality an d to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; it shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace;
- it is essential to respect the liberty of parents and, where applicable, of legal guardians, firstly to choose for their children institutions other than those maintained by the public authorities but conforming to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the competent authorities and, secondly, to ensure in a manner consistent with the procedures followed in the State for the application of its legislation, the religious and moral education of the children in conformity with their own convictions; and no person or group of persons should be compelled to receive religious instruction inconsistent with his or their conviction;
- it is essential to recognize the right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities, including the maintenance of schools and, depending on the educational policy of each State, the use or the teaching of their own language, provided however:
- that this right is not exercised in a manner which prevents the members of these minorities from understanding the culture and language of the community as a whole and from participating in its – activities, or which prejudices national sovereignty;
- that the standard of education is not lower than the general standard laid down or approved by the competent authorities; and
- that attendance at such schools is optional.
The State to the Convention against Discrimination in Education also undertake to take all necessary measures to ensure the application of the principles enunciated by the convention.